A few years ago, my wife and I went through a particularly trying event in our relationship. There's no need to go into too much detail, as I didn't at the time and it wouldn't add anything to the overall emotion of what you're about to read. The following piece was written immediately after a weekend in which she and I tried desperately to begin cobbling what was left of our marriage back together (in vain, it would seem). It's incredibly personal -- so much so that a couple of months after posting it I removed it from the main page. I'm glad I wrote it, though, and at the time so was Jayne, as it certainly wasn't written to shame anyone, merely to help me express to both her and her family how strong I felt our bond was and how much I loved them. This piece hasn't been seen by anyone other than me in more than three years.
"Till Human Voices Wake Us" (Originally Published, 7.31.06)
In the home in which my wife grew up, there is a clock that's broken. Its hands are permanently frozen -- the smaller one almost directly over top of the 7 and its slightly longer brother, between the 4 and the 5. A stopped clock is of no great significance and usually requires little more than a fresh battery. This clock however is noteworthy because it isn't technically dead. As it turns out, the second-hand is in constant motion; it's wedged squarely between the 9 and the 10 and counts off the seconds without actually making any progress. It lunges forward erratically, then snaps back into place -- like a runner jumping the gun and returning quickly to his original position. It does this again and again and again -- counting second after second after second while going absolutely nowhere.
What's also noteworthy is where this clock happens to be located; it's on the wall above the inside of the shower. In other words, to fully see this strange little phenomenon, you would ostensibly have to be completely naked -- exposed.
This past weekend, I left New York City -- packing my recent heartbreak and a change of clothes into an unnecessarily expensive rental SUV, and heading south. At this point, getting as far away from the place I hang my hat -- or at least my baseball cap -- is a consistently welcome thought. With all due respect to the legion of tourists in their obligatory "I (Heart) NY" t-shirts, I can't say I'm all that fond of the place right now; it holds too many painful reminders of a recent history to which I wasn't privy, but which held an unseen death-grip on almost all parts of my life. Everywhere I look, I now see sickening landmarks -- relics of a relationship I didn't even know had existed. Everywhere I look, I now see the truth.
It makes living here a little like wandering through a waking nightmare.
So, the main point of this journey was to put some distance between myself and the place where two people -- one I've loved, the other I've never even met -- detonated a nuclear bomb whose fallout half-life is somewhere in the 3000-year range. It's not without some irony that my destination wound up being the town where one of those people was raised; and no, it wasn't the one I've never met -- although I hear it's lovely in hell this time of year. What I hoped to find in Reading, Pennsylvania -- besides the legendary railroad and the woman I had sent away a few days previously -- I wasn't quite sure. My general disposition was a constantly ebbing and flowing mixture of anger, sadness, and an oddly Zen-like calm. Mostly though, I found myself silently demanding answers. I wanted to understand. I wanted to comprehend. I wanted to know why.
Reading was the mountain to which I had to go.
Two days later, I have some of the answers I was so desperately looking for; there are others I'll never find; there are still others that simply don't exist. The question now would seem to be whether or not this particular combination of knowledge and ignorance is satisfactory to consider a future with my wife.
It would seem to be anyway.
There are a few additional elements though which -- when poured into the mixture -- make the decision all but crystal clear. To understand them, you have to understand my wife; I have no doubt that I understand her better than almost anyone on this planet. Others can easily spot the beauty and the sexiness -- the sweetness and the warmth; I see the light that radiates beneath even that. She has a humanity -- flawed though it may be -- like no other.
Jayne is a soul in transition.
She was born first, into a family which would grow to become a caring, loving, and close-knit group beyond description. Her father is one of the most unabashedly optimistic and honorable men I've had the pleasure to know; her mother is infinitely complex and fascinating -- the yin to his yang, with just enough common elements to create a bond that's withstood a lifetime of growth. Her younger brothers and sister are each thoroughly unique -- but all carry Jayne's wit, intellect and creative capacity; together they share the kind of bond at which an only-child like myself can only marvel. They've welcomed me and my own family into theirs with open arms, and I couldn't in a lifetime properly express my gratitude.
These people -- this love -- has grounded her in immeasurable ways; it's kept her humble and thankful, no matter the stellar heights she's reached independently. I fell in love not only with her, but with her family -- because they're one and the same. This is a big deal for a naturally detached jerk like me.
Jayne has always longed for more.
For the two of us -- separately and as a couple -- New York City has always represented the brass ring. There was a time when we could think of living nowhere else, whether we were in fact residents or were living elsewhere. For us, the city held our past (we met there), our present (we were married there) and our future (we imagined settling down there for good). It was a place of endless possibilities and constant forward motion. I was excited and proud to watch her realize her dreams there; I was also scared shitless.
I once asked, right here on this little experiment of mine: When can support work against you? What happens when new experiences render a person unrecognizable to you -- even when you share an intense bond with him or her? What the hell do you do when one or both sides of a loving couple become lost in all the chaos?
I can finally answer that.
You return to the center.
In our wedding vows, Jayne and I included a passage from Joseph Campbell which explains the wedding band as a circle whose center is always the couple itself. The idea is that no matter what outside force exerts pressure, each person is expected to return to the center for shelter and comfort from the other. It's beautiful and yet stunningly simple symbolism.
Unfortunately, our center -- the one we agreed upon together -- has been catastrophically damaged.
So, with nowhere else to turn and nowhere else to go, Jayne returned to her original center. Her family was there to offer love and support which -- in spite of my heartbreak and rage -- was exactly what I had hoped they would offer.
Our weekend there together was a fragile patchwork of sorrow and sadness -- anger and outrage. I broke down into desperate sobs more times than I care to relive. She expressed unrelenting sorrow for what had happened -- for what we had lost. She promised to prove herself. I promised to listen. She promised to regain my faith and trust. I promised to show support.
We both promised to try.
The reasons I'll do this...
Because I've made horrible and hurtful mistakes in my lifetime, and paid an equally horrible price for them -- and I never want to see someone I care for go through that.
Because through those mistakes, I learned the importance of forgiveness and redemption.
Because she's shown support for me during times when others would have left my side.
Because I know the real woman -- no matter how lost she may sometimes become.
Because I once held her hand and vowed to never give up on her.
Because somewhere along the line, this cynical bastard found hope -- and she's the one responsible.
Because we have a history that's worth fighting for.
Because I love her -- and I waited a lifetime to find something so precious.
This will without question be the most difficult challenge of either of our lives. I'm frightened, and the sense of safety that I once found in her arms unconditionally has been torn from me. I have images in my head and demons in my heart that I have no idea how I'm going to exorcise -- but I know that I have to somehow, if we're to survive. Things will be different between us for some time to come, but maybe one day they'll be better. Maybe we'll be better.
My wife returned to her center, and found that no matter how much she grows, or things change, time there stands still. All you have to do is be willing to expose enough of yourself to realize it.